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Mutagens: Definition, Types and Handling

Mutagens are physical, chemical or biological agents that are present in the genetic material of an organism, specifically in DNA. The presence of this product is responsible for increasing the mutation rate in cells. These mutations are often harmful to cells and can have very dire effects on our health.

Are you curious about this mutagen? Come on, see the explanation!

Definition of Mutagens

Mutagens are products that are harmful to genetic material, especially DNA. This causes abnormalities in the genetic material that can be inherited or non-inherited.

Various processes are responsible for measuring aspects and mutation rates in DNA. Various physical and chemical substances cause mutations in the genetic material of the human body.

Mutagens Definition, Types

These mutations are mostly carried out by external products such as ultraviolet rays, harmful chemicals, and others. These mutations can cause dangerous diseases such as cancer. Each mutagen has a unique mutation signature. The process of modifying DNA is called mutagenesis.

Discovery of Mutagens

The first mutagens related to carcinogenic products were discovered more than 2000 years before the discovery of DNA. However, knowledge of carcinogens and radioactivity was unknown at that time, but the effects of these products have been recorded throughout history. According to Barnes et al. (2018), cancer-causing genetic material are called carcinogens.

One of the most well-documented cases of exposure to genetic material can be found in the case of miners who used to work in poorly ventilated maintenance areas. These miners were recorded as suffering from wasting disease.

After thorough research, it was concluded that the miners were identified as having lung cancer. This is due to the accumulation of radon. Radon is known as a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas and this gas is classified as a health hazard because of its radioactivity.


Reported by Vedantu, mutagens can be categorized into three different forms based on their source of origin. The three include:

  • Physical: Physical mutagens include ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, alpha particles, and gamma rays. Ultraviolet radiation can also act as a potential mutagen. This section also covers various other high-energy radiation and temperature rise.
  • Chemical: Various elements such as arsenic, nickel and chromium are considered as chemical mutagens. Organic compounds such as benzene can be considered mutagenic.
  • Biological : Biological mutagens involve transposons and viruses. In addition, certain bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori can increase the risk of stomach cancer.

According to Biology Online, based on the cells affected by the mutagen, can be classified as follows:

  • Somatic mutagens: Mutagens that occur in non-reproductive cells (somatic cells) of living things. Somatic genetic material that change the pattern of cell division can eventually result in the formation of cancerous cells or tissues.
  • Germinal line: Mutagens that occur in gametes or in the reproductive cells that produce gametes or sex cells. These mutations can be inherited and transferred to the next offspring in all cells, both somatic and germ line.


The most prominent impact of mutagens is cancer. Quoting the National Human Genome Research Institute, genetic material are products that modify, induce and change our DNA. Therefore, this product is called genotoxic.

Mutagens are responsible for triggering carcinogenic responses or impairing the function of certain genes. They can also override gene function causing a variety of critical medical conditions.

Mutagenic effects vary from organism to organism. genetic material can be harmful and can have a carcinogenic effect on one organism but can be positively effective on another.

Some genetic material can also cause silent mutations. These mutations showed no discernible effect as they mostly impact non-coding DNA.


As mentioned above, there are three types of mutagens. Exposure to physical genetic material clearly involves limiting or avoiding high-energy radiation.

Unfortunately, there is no specific way to stay protected from mutagens present in the external environment. However, the effects of genetic material can be reduced with the help of antioxidants. These antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants can help prevent cancer.

Mutagens are products that are harmful to an individual’s genetic material. The most prominent impact of this mutagen is cancer.

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